Posted on 21 July 2008 by joost
Yes, so Nederland is small. We like it that way! With a small country (though tall people, hmm strange) comes small modes of transport. While normal cities have metro lines, Nederland has trams! Cute!
I am being a touch dramatic here, but not a whole lot. Amsterdam for instance, Nederland’s capital, has — count ‘em — three metro lines. With an additional line under construction. Why so few? Well, the city is quite small. But there is a second reason. Amsterdam has a huge amount of trams. And why build a metro when you have trams goddamnit!
These jewels of efficiency (note: sarcasm) run criss-cross through Amsterdams streets. Yes, when a truck is unloading, they are going to have to wait. And they occasionally run over people as well. But we’ve had trams for millennia so why change now?
Rotterdam has trams also, and even fewer metro lines. Other cities in Nederlands have trams, trams, trams and oh, buses as well (more on those in a later episode). So when you need to go some place in a major city, those are basically your options. Luckily, there is a national system to trams, and public transportation in general. It is called the strippenkaart.
You basically never buy a ticket inside the tram itself. You buy a strippenkaart – strip card – at magazine stands. These run €6,90 and have 15 strips that need to be stamped before you start your journey. Yes it’s fine if you get the stamp as soon as you walk in the tram. Always get one or run your strip card through a stamp machine, even in Amsterdam. For some reason the GBV people (public transportation company) has increased checks inside trams, especially on busy routes.
The logic behind strip cards is somewhat completely bizarre. The amount of strips depends on the length of your journey, which is somewhat understandable. But the distance varies and works with “zones”. For every zone boundary, you pay one strip. And you pay one strip to begin with. Still follow? Should you happen to live juuuuuust outside a zone, you’re basically screwed. Unless you get out one stop early and walk. Or do zwartrijden.
Not paying for fare — zwartrijden — (literally black riding) used to be very common in the 80s and 90s. There were no toll booths and very few people checking tickets. For some reason, this has caught on with the authorities. Since then checks have gone up and zwartrijden has gone down. If you get caught, expect to pay a fine of €35. And an additional fine if you can’t produce picture ID.
But wait a second you say. No toll booths? Yep, that is correct. There are no toll booths in Nederland except for a metro in Rotterdam, where a new system called OV chipkaart is being tested. In true Nederlands tradition, this system is a complete mess. The card (like London’s Oyster) has been hacked, budget has been tripled, deadlines have been missed and there is no end in sight. It was supposed to have solved all of our public transportation troubles, but instead has added quite a few of it’s own. Introduction is now planned for 2010.
Back of the tram
Back to trams, or more specifically, the back of the tram. This is where you board this device. The conductor with her mighty stamp is located here. The very modern trams have their entrance one door more to the front, but still near the back of the tram. Approach the conductor, say how many zones and let her do her thing. You can also state your destination: s/he will stamp the correct number of strips for you. Stating the number of strippen itself is not the custom. State the number of zones (which is lower).
Should you not have purchased a strip card beforehand, you can get single-fare(ish) tickets at the conductor. You pay cash in euros, this means coins! The full price is €1,60 currently so it’s best to have something like that in change. A two euro coin works nicely. A ten euro bill is about the maximum you can get away with, 20 will work if you smile, and you can forget about paying with 50 or above.
The modern trams have electronic displays that state the upcoming stop and a neutral disembodied voice that shouts the stop’s names as well. Popular tourist destinations get a mention in English; expect Rijksmuseum to be pronounced something like ryeksmuseum. Sometimes the conductor will shout something incomprehensible. If you are truly lost, it does not hurt to ask her to give your stop a little extra love. Most of the time, she will remember. Just point your ears and have a look at the electronic display.